Anwar’s bid in focus as Malaysia by-election starts
>> PORT DICKSON: Voting was underway yesterday in a Malaysian by-election that sees charismatic politician Anwar Ibrahim, seen as a possible leader-in-waiting, making a bid to re-enter parliament after spending three years in jail over a sodomy conviction.
Mr Anwar, 71, needs victory to take the first step toward taking over as leader from 92-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has promised to step down before his current five-year term ends.
Throughout the 14-day campaigning in the seaside resort town of Port Dickson, 50 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur, where Mr Anwar is contesting the seat with six other candidates, voters have been told a vote for Mr Anwar is choosing the prime-minister-in-waiting.
The succession plan was part of a deal struck among the four-party Alliance of Hope before the historic May 9 general election that ousted the National Front coalition, which had ruled the country since independence over 60 years ago.
Mr Anwar had to sit out the general election as he was still serving a five-year jail term from 2015. He was freed after receiving a full royal pardon a week after the alliance came to power.
“This by-election is important for Mr Anwar because winning the seat will be his first step in possibly the last stretch in becoming the next prime minister — a position that he has coveted since the late 1990s,” Asrul Hadi Abdulah Sani, the director of Bower Group Asia Malaysia, a risk consultancy firm said.
Mr Anwar was once seen as the heir to Dr Mahathir during the latter’s first stint as premier from 1981 to 2003.
Both were then with the National Front, but they had a spectacular fall-out in 1998 when Mr Anwar was booted out as the deputy prime minister over what Dr Mahathir described as his “immorality” and subsequently jailed for six years on sodomy and corruption charges.
Mr Anwar has always maintained his innocence and blamed the political elites for orchestrating those charges as well as those behind his latest conviction to prevent him from challenging their power. His cause has been taken up by rights groups and the international community who have deemed him a political prisoner.
But 20 years later, Mr Anwar and Dr Mahathir buried the hatchet ahead of the general election to take on a common foe, former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and the National Front. However, rumours of distrust remain.
The Port Dickson parliamentary election was called after Danyal Balagopal Abdullah from Mr Anwar’s party, the People’s Justice Party, or PKR, gave up his seat in September to make way for Mr Anwar.